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PSR Proves a Great Need for Nuclear Disarmament at NPT

Posted by Jill Marie Parillo on May 13, 2009

Today we had a special guest appearance from Dr. Victor Sidel, one of the founders of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in 1961 and one of the 1981 founders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the recipient of the 1985 Nobel Prize for Peace. Dr. Vic Sidel told the audience how PSR developed and grew in popularity with a meeting of a group of doctors in Boston. The group met in 1961 to study the medical consequences of a thermal nuclear attack. They laid out the human consequences of a thermal nuclear bomb in an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, said Dr. Sidel. A lot has already been done by Dr. Sidel and PSR founders, they were already working on steps to zero, promoting the ratification of a nuclear test ban treaty. “It was only a matter of above ground nuclear tests when we were calling for a nuclear test ban treaty in 1963,” said Dr. Sidel.

Climatic and environmental consequences of nuclear war were then discussed by PSR Senior Scientist Steven Starr and PSR Security team leader and long time PSR Board Member Dr. Ira Helfand. Steven Starr gave us his new website: “A nuclear war fought with 100 Hiroshima-size weapons would cause major distributions of global climate and massive destruction of Earth’s protective ozone layer,” said Starr. “A global smoke layer would block warming sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth…Nuclear darkness would cause rapid drops in surface temperatures and create Ice Age weather conditions lasting for years,” he said. “We desperately need new studies to predict the climate change of a nuclear war,” said Starr.

Dr. Ira Helfand said what we as doctors are asking when we look at these statistics is, “what would the health effect be on a regional nuclear war?” “The direct consequences of a 100 Hiroshima sized bombs in South Asia would kill 20 million people promptly as the result of the blast and heat,” said Dr. Helfand. “The thing that really concerns us, are the global effects, the cooling that will result from such a war. The sudden cooling will decrease sunlight, and less rainfall will shorten growing seasons and reduce crop yields leading to global starvation. Large areas would be contaminated with radiation. Very important food areas would be significantly contaminated. This food could be consumed, even though it should be destroyed, said Dr. Helfand. At the moment we are not prepared to deal with a global shortage of food supplies. Global food reserves are at the lowest in decades.

With millions of people around the world on the verge of starvation toady, a disruption in global food commerce due to a nuclear war “could kill up to a billion people,” said Dr. Helfand. Even illnesses like the plague could reemerge. “These statistics should have an immense implication on nuclear policy,” he said. Steven Starr added that, “a single failure of deterrence between the United States and Russia could lead to this type of nuclear exchange.” Dr. Helfand applauded the United States and Russia for taking a large steps towards zero with the negotiation of a new disarmament agreement this year, but getting down to 1,000 operationally deployed warheads each is not good enough, when “even 100 nuclear weapons could cause these devastating human results,” he said. If there was ever a really good reason to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, this is it.


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